Benedict Cumberbatch: Letters Live 2013 (Chris Barker to Bessie Moore) #2

The Second One (1945): ‘In the Flesh’


My dearest one,
I have just heard the news that all the Army men captured by ELAS are to return to their homes. Because of the shipping situation we may not commence to go before the end of February, but can probably count on being in England sometime in March. It may be sooner. It has made me very warm inside. It is terrific, wonderful, shattering. I don’t know what to say, and I cannot think. The delay is nothing, the decision is everything. Now I am confirming in my head the little decisions I have made when contemplating just the possibility. I must spend the first days at home, I must consider giving party somewhere. Above all, I must be with you. I must warm you, surround you, love you and be kind to you. Tell me anything that is in your mind, write tons and tons and tons, and plan our time. I would prefer not to get married, but want you to agree on the point. In the battle, I was afraid. For you. For my mother. For myself. Wait we must, my love and my darling. Let us meet, let us be, let us know, but do not let us, now, make any mistakes. I am anxious, very anxious, that you should not misunderstand what I have said. Say what you think but please agree, and remember I was afraid, and I am still afraid.How good for us to see each other before I am completely bald! I have some fine little wisps of hair on the top of my head. It is not much good me trying to write about recent experiences now that I know that I shall be able to tell you everything myself within such short time. What I have my eye on now is the first letter from you saying that you know I am alright, and the next, saying you know I am coming to you. I must try to keep out of hospital with some of these post P.O.W. complaints. Plan a week somewhere (not Boscombe or Bournemouth) and think of being together. The glory of you. When I was captive I used to try and contact you and think hard ‘Bessie, my dearest, I am alright. Do not worry.’ I never felt that I got through, somehow. But now it is over, and you know that I am alright and going to be with you soon, to join and enjoy. Do not get very excited outwardly. I am conscious of the inner tumult, the clamor, but I am not too much outwardly joyful. Moderation is my advice. Watch the buses as you cross the street.
We are free of duties and yesterday I went to our friends in Athens, taking some of your coffee and cocoa, which they were very pleased to have. Thank you for sending it. We were embraced very kindly, kissing and so on, continental fashion.
I hope that you will not start buying any clothes (if you have the coupons left), because you think you must look nice for me. I shall be sorry if you do. Just carry on as near as possible to normal. My return at the present time allows us to make public our mutual attachment. I shall tell my family I hope to spend a week away with you somewhere during my leave. My counsel to you is to tell as few people as possible. To someone like Miss Ferguson you can politely reply to her observations that you thought it was your business, rather than hers. Try to avoid preening yourself and saying much. This is my advice, not anything but that. I hope you understand. I do not ever want it to be anything but our affair. Do not permit any intrusion.
I do not know how long leave I shall get. I could get as little as fourteen days, and I may get as much as a month. I am wondering how I shall tell you I am in England. Probably it is still quicker to send a telegram than a letter, and I hope to send you one announcing that I am on the same island. I will send another when I am actually soon to get on the London bound train, and you can ring Lee Green 0509 when you think I have arrived there. You must bear in mind that I shall be with my brother until we get home. Also, that, having been away from home for so long, my parents will want to see a lot of me. I hope that everything will work itself out without any unhappiness to anyone. I shall be in great demand from two or three points and it will be difficult to manage without offense.
It is a strange thing, but I cannot seem to get going and write very freely. All I am think about is I am going home. I am going to see her. It is a fact, a real thing, an impending event, like Shrove Tuesday, Xmas Day, or the Lord Major’s Banquet. You have to be abroad, you have to be hermetically sealed off from your intimates, from your home, to realise what a gift this going-home is.
The few letters of yours that I had on me, I burnt the day previous to our surrender, so no one but myself has read your words. In the first ten days of our captivity I did not think any soft thoughts about you; all I did was concentrate on trying to tell you I was alright. But when we had a few supplies dropped by aircraft (at great risk to themselves in the misty snowbound Greek mountain villages) and we started hoping we might get sent home upon our release, I was always wondering about you, about us. It is a pity that the winter weather will not be kind to us out of doors. But it will be nice sitting next to you in the pictures, no matter what may be on the screen. It will be grand to know that we have each other support and sympathy. Won’t it be wonderful to be together, really together, in the flesh, not just to know that a letter is all we can send?
I love you.
Chris

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